It's Not Over. Clinton Runs Ahead, But Obama Remains Strong

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., remains the frontrunner in the Democratic presidential contest, even though Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., won more states on Super Tuesday, when 22 states held Democratic primaries and caucuses.

While the vote count is not yet final in some states, notably California, Clinton won strong victories in many large states, such as New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and Massachusetts -- and she was leading in the early returns in California. She also won Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. All told, Clinton won in eight states.

In contrast, Obama won 13 states, according to his campaign, including most Western states holding caucuses. Those states are Alaska, Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah.

Various news organizations have different estimates of the delegate count, but Clinton is clearly ahead in these scenarios. The New York Times said Clinton has 656 delegates compared to 558 for Obama. The Washington Post, whose estimate does not include super-delegates -- party officials and other Democratic luminaries who comprise about 21 percent of all delegates -- said Clinton has 412 delegates compared to 381 for Obama.

The Obama campaign said on Tuesday night that it leads Clinton by 43 delegates -- not counting California -- with 677 delegates, compared to Clinton's 634 delegates. That estimate includes super delegates.

A more objective appraisal will not emerge for several days, however, until California's results are known and all the state tallies are analyzed.

Thus, while Super Tuesday appears to have moved both parties closer to picking candidates, it seems that voters -- particularly Democrats -- can look forward to more campaigning, debates and voting in long-ignored states, making the eventual nominee the result of the most informed and participatory process in decades.

Both Democratic candidates saw positives in Super Tuesday's outcome, although the Obama campaign may have been working a bit harder than the Clinton campaign to spin the results in its favor.

"The polls are just closing in California, and the votes are still being counted in cities and towns across America," said Barack Obama, addressing supporters in Chicago. "But there is one thing on this February night that we do not need the results to know. Our time has come."

"Tonight is your night. Tonight is America's night," said Hillary Clinton, addressing her supporters in New York. "In record numbers, people voted not just to make history, but to remake America."

While election officials will certify vote totals and party officials will parse the results and award delegates in coming days, the bottom line is that the contest may take a month or more before the nominee is chosen.

In fact, on Monday, Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn suggested that the nominee might not be selected until early March, when Ohio and Texas vote.

"There are a lot of states that are good for her," Penn said, citing Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas as Clinton strongholds, which hold their nominating contests on March 4, April 22 and March 4, respectively. "Those are large states with a lot of delegates."

"We will enter, after Feb. 5th, a different stage of the campaign," he said. "There will be a comparison of records, more one-on-one debates ... It will be a different campaign than we have seen (on Super Tuesday) with a lot of voters making fast decisions."

Penn was suggesting that Clinton's strength in large states will eclipse any gains made by Obama in 10 smaller states that have contests in the next four weeks. Those 10 states and locales are: Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, Virgin Islands, Maine, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii and Wisconsin. Most of these states are seen as leaning toward Obama, for various reasons, from the electorate's make-up, to political beliefs to campaign organization and endorsements.

In coming days, pundits will analyze the exit polls to assess the candidates' various strengths and weaknesses. An early take suggests that the strengths exhibited by Clinton all along, such as her appeal among working women, seniors and Latinos, held up on Super Tuesday, despite last-minute polls suggesting Obama would neutralize those segments of the electorate in Tuesday's voting.

In California and Arizona, for example, it appears that Obama did make more progress with Latino voters. However, his gains were not sufficient to offset Clinton's strong ties within that broad community. Moreover, Obama's vaunted youth vote did not materialize in numbers sufficient to offset Clinton's popularity among her base.

Political scientists say the Democratic nomination is moving into uncharted territory with few precedents. During the past two decades, the party's nominee was largely chosen by this stage in the nominating process. What is unprecedented is how an ongoing contest will engage voters -- now and into the fall -- and whether a long contest will hurt the nominee as the country moves into the fall election, academics say.

Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said it was possible that the record voter turnout of Democrats in the primary season would carry over into the fall, unless the nominee discouraged a large segment of primary voters.

"Logically, there should be a connection," he said. "If people are energized or upset and turn out in large numbers in the winter, there's a decent chance we'll see the same phenomenon in the fall. Of course, lots can happen in the intervening months. Voters can get disillusioned with their choices, old issues can deflate, etc. So you never know."

What is clear, after Super Tuesday, is that the Democratic nominating contest is still in play and states that have sat on the political sidelines for years will be making historic choices. So far, Democratic turnout has been far larger than the Republican side of the aisle. Indeed, with so few recent historic precedents, perhaps many Democrats rightly think that their choice in coming weeks is not just deciding the nominee, but the next president.

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